When Boston Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs made his poignant statements in January about the state of the organization, it was unthinkable that the team would miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
His comments about this season being an "incredible failure" and "absolutely unacceptable" if the Bruins did miss the playoffs weren't taken too seriously because everyone thought the team would turn things around.
It didn't. It missed the playoffs and Jacobs wasn't kidding.
On Wednesday, Peter Chiarelli was relieved of his duties as Bruins general manager. Claude Julien and his coaching staff, for now, remain intact. During an afternoon news conference at TD Garden, team president Cam Neely explained that the new GM would decide Julien's fate.
After making those comments back in January, Jacobs, son of team owner Jeremy Jacobs, had to act. Charlie Jacobs had no choice but to fire Chiarelli. Any respectable CEO needs to take action after making those types of threats. So, Jacobs stood his ground and the organization made a business decision to remove Chiarelli.
But it wasn't the right move from a hockey standpoint.
Yes, it was a disastrous season, but I don't see how you can fire the GM after one bad campaign. Yes, he made mistakes, but let's not forget the winning mentality Chiarelli helped build in Boston.
The legacy he leaves behind should be remembered in a positive way. The Bruins returned the Stanley Cup to Boston in 2011 after a 39-year drought. They returned to the finals in 2013 before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins then won the Presidents' Trophy as the league's best team during the 2013-14 regular season (we'll get back to that later), but lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs.
This season, the team never gained any serious traction and eventually missed out on a postseason berth on the final day.
Since Chiarelli took over in 2006, and when Julien came aboard the following season, ownership, management, the coaching staff and players began to build a strong core that eventually turned into a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
Leading into the 2013-14 season, Chiarelli knew his team was poised for another Cup run. Knowing it would affect the team's future salary cap, Chiarelli wanted to sign veteran forward Jarome Iginla, so Neely and ownership signed off on it. The Bruins gave Iginla an incentive-laden contract with overages that affected the cap for the 2014-15 season.
Chiarelli and the Bruins went all in for 2013-14. Had Boston beaten the Canadiens in the second round, the Bruins could have reached the Stanley Cup finals and possibly won another championship. If that had happened, then all the complaining about this season's cap constraints would not have been so loud.
Due to those cap issues, Chiarelli was forced to trade veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders for a pair of second-round draft picks in 2015 and 2016. At the time of the deal, Chiarelli said he would make other moves to improve the team, but that never happened. The Bruins struggled defensively the entire season and Boychuk's services were missed. That trade was a mistake, and that one is on Chiarelli.
But it was interesting to hear Neely explain that he had told Chiarelli prior to the trade deadline to protect as many assets as he could. That meant Chiarelli was not able to make the moves that could have saved the team's season and even protected his job. It was at that point when his power as GM started to diminish.
During Wednesday's news conference, Neely explained he did not want Chiarelli trading prospects or top draft picks for rentals, and that the GM acted professionally. Neely also acknowledged the organization's difficulty drafting better players in recent years, and said that's an area he would like to improve.
So, the search for a new GM has already begun.
Neely said the organization would look internally and externally for candidates. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Bruins promoted assistant general manager Don Sweeney to the post.
Sweeney just completed his ninth season in the front office and sixth in his current role. A former Bruins teammate of Neely's, Sweeney is well respected in the organization and could handle the role.
Former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero would be another interesting choice. He was in the mix for the Boston job in 2006, but decided to accept the Penguins GM position instead, leaving the Bruins to hire Chiarelli.
As far as the roster, Neely said he does not want a complete rebuild. He believes in this core group of players, which is also an indication the organization has no issue with Chiarelli's decisions to sign these players to long-term contracts.
Yes, the likes of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask earned their contracts and Chiarelli did nothing wrong by giving them out. If he hadn't, fans would have complained that there wasn't a long-term vision.
If anyone is to blame for the Bruins' lack of success this season, the fingers should be pointed at the players. They underperformed. The team did not play with the grit it has won with in the past. That falls on the veteran players who know the system.
"Tough to see him leave. It is the business that you are in, and we as players deserve some of the blame for today," assistant captain Patrice Bergeron told ESPNBoston.com. "Peter has helped me grow as a player and person over the years, and I wish him nothing but the best in the future."
"He did a heck of a job building a Stanley Cup champion," Yzerman told ESPN.com. "He's one of the greatest GMs, in my opinion."
Chiarelli accomplished what he was hired to do. He helped build a team that fans fell in love with. He helped bring a Stanley Cup championship (almost two) back to Boston. This season wasn't about a few decisions he made.
So, after not making the playoffs, the Bruins needed a fall guy, and it's Chiarelli. But for all he's done in Boston, he should have been given a stay of execution.